“Wild Bill”: What William Bennett Had to Say About His Life

The below article about my fourth-great-grandfather, William Bennett, has been transcribed word for word, including errors (grammatical or otherwise). William does tell his father’s name: John! While the article gives A LOT of great information, I have not been able to prove much of it yet. I am working on a timeline of events according to William, then I will try to back those up with documents.

The Nashville American, September 21, 1903




Lives Alone, Does His Own Household and Farm Work, and is as Spry as Anybody—Some of His Relics and Reminiscences.

Special Dispatch to the American.

ASHLAND CITY, Tenn., Sept. 19 – The oldest man in this section, and one of the most remarkable, is William Bennett. He lives in the Second District of Cheatham County, and is generally known as “Wild Bill” Bennett. He is nearly 98 years of age, having been born April 16, 1806, about fifteen miles south of Nashville in what is now Williamson County. Notwithstanding his age and the many hardships of his early life, he was never sick a single day, and to-day his appearance and general demeanor would indicate that he had not gone beyond three score and ten. He enjoys the best of health, is very active, both physically and mentally, works every day in the year on the farm or in timber, and puts in as good a day’s work as any man. He don’t drink whisky nor use tobacco. He rides horses or mules and says he can ride anything. He rode into town recently on horseback, a distance of eight miles, and experienced no fatigue whatever. In all his life he has never ridden in a buggy.

As an evidence of his physical strength and activity he cleared seven acres of land last winter and this summer he cultivated a crop of sixteen acres of corn and three acres of sorghum, the sixteen acres of corn including seven acres of new ground cleared during winter. He did the entire work of cultivation except four days of the plowing, and he has as good a crop as any man in his neighborhood.


“Uncle Bill,” as he is familiarly called, lives alone, doing his own domestic work. He clings to the old-time ways of doing things. For instance, he buys green coffee and roasts it himself at home; he will not have it any other way. His wife died twenty-three years ago, and his large family of children have grown up and settled in various parts of the country, leaving him to finish the battle of life alone on his farm.

Mr. Bennett is not and never has been a believer in race suicide; on the other hand he accepts the Rooseveltian idea of race propagation, and has practiced what he preaches by rearing a family of sixteen children, thirteen boys and three girls. To-day he has thirteen living children, eleven sons and two daughters, his oldest being Jake Bennett, who lives near Springfield, Tenn., and is 76 years of age. Mr. Bennett does not know the number of his grandchildren, but is certain of having more than one hundred, one of his sons having twenty-three children.


Mr. Bennett has among his valuable possessions some rare relics, among others his great-grandmother’s hymn book, which was printed more than a century ago. The book is covered with a piece of blue dress goods, sewed on by his great-grandmother. He also has his grandfather’s razor, which is in splendid order to-day. One of his most interesting possessions is an almanac published in 1819. His collection of antiques has been kept in a high state of preservation, following the injunctions of his father, who handed them down to him.

Mr. Bennett’s father was John Bennett, who, with his wife, came from North Carolina in 1792 or 1794, and settled at the place where William was born, as above stated. On the way from North Carolina they were accompanied by the lady who afterwards became the wife of John Demonbreun, one of the pioneer settlers of Nashville, and for whom Demonbreun street was named. This lady lived in what was then known as the old fort, on Lick Branch. Bennett says he saw her frequently in the early part of the last century. When a boy he visited Nashville often, which was then a village of a few cedar log cabins, while the hillsides were covered with a thick growth of cedars.


Mr. Bennett’s father, John Bennett, was in the second war with England from 1813 to 1815, having volunteered and joined the army of Gen. Andrew Jackson at or near Nashville. He says he remembers having heard the conversation that occurred, between his father and mother when his father was leaving home for the war. His mother was weeping, and asked her husband when he would return. The husband replied that he did not know, but would come back just as soon as he could. John Bennett was with Gen. Jackson through the entire war, and was in the battle of New Orleans on Jan. 8, 1815. Soon after this battle was fought he returned to his home in Williamson County.

In the early part of 1819 the subject of this sketch moved, with his father and mother, to the place where he now lives, which was then in Davidson County. They came by way of Nashville, and on Jan. 19, 1819, crossed the Cumberland River on the ice, at what is now called the old Page place, the rock house on the White’s Creek pike. The ferry boats were all frozen up, so the plan of crossing on the ice had to be adopted. At that time there was but one house between the top of Paradise Ridge and Sycamore Creek. This house stood near the present Davidson County line. Parker Paradise lived at the top of the ridge which bears his name. What is now the Nashville & Clarksville road was then only a blind pathway through a wilderness. There was not a single place of habitation between that road and the Cumberland River in the direction of Ashland City.


The wilderness abounded in game and wild animals, deer, wild turkeys, panthers and wolves being plentiful, and there were also a few bears. Mr. Bennett says he frequently killed three or four deer in a single day and caught numbers of wolves and panthers in traps. It was common occurrence in those times to hear wolves howling around the cabin at night.

There were a number of Indians in the country at that time, and they were a source of much annoyance and trouble to the white settlers. Mr. Bennett remembers well that in 1821 Sam Cockrell was killed and scalped by the Indians at a spring two miles from the top of the ridge near the Springfield road. Soon after the killing of Cockrell Jim Loggins was also killed and scalped by the Indians at another spring further toward Springfield. When killed Cockrell and Loggins were salting cattle at these springs, being surrounded an attacked by four or five Indians. These two springs to-day bear the names of Cockrell and Loggins and are on the western edge of the Twenty-fourth District of Davidson County.

Mr. Bennett relates most entertainingly that some time in 1820 one of his neighbors, Whit Harrington, killed an Indian who was constantly annoying the white settlers by going about in the woods gobbling like a turkey. Harrington declared that he was going to have that turkey, and the threat was promptly executed. He scalped the Indian and cut two strips of skin from his head to his heels, and with these strips of skin made a pair of bridle reins. This was done by way of retaliating for the killing of Cockrell and Loggins.


Mr. Bennett tells some interesting political incidents of those early days. When a young man he frequently saw Gen. Andrew Jackson in and around Nashville. He heard Jackson make two or three speeches in 1828 or 1832 during his canvass for the presidency. He was at the big Whig rally in Nashville in 1844 and heard the speech delivered by Henry Clay on that occasion. In that great campaign the Democrats wore blue uniforms with red stripes on the pants. Bennett was in a company of forty Democrats in blue uniforms attending that rally. They were armed with polk stalks. The Whigs wore coon skin caps. Bennett saw President Zachary Taylor when he visited Nashville in 1849 or 1850. The President came up the Cumberland River on a steamer.

Mr. Bennett went through the Civil War having enlisted on the side of the Federal Government. He served in the Eighty-third Ohio Cavalry under the command of Gen. Joseph Haynie. In politics he is a Republican. He is not a member of any church. Apparently his age will easily reach the century mile stone.


Posted December 13, 2018

As always, please feel free to contact me at downhomegenealogy@gmail.com!


One thought on ““Wild Bill”: What William Bennett Had to Say About His Life

  1. Pingback: William Bennett Newspaper Articles – Down Home Genealogy

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